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Trust leading UK-first syphilis screening programme in ED

A pilot screening programme testing for syphilis infection is being rolled out this month at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

During the eight-week pilot programme, patients aged 19-70 years who are having their blood sampled at the hospital’s emergency department will be tested for syphilis, HIV and hepatitis C and B on an opt-out basis.

“This will be the first pilot programme nationally to include syphilis screening”

David Chadwick

This will enable the emergency department team to identify any undiagnosed infections and offer early treatment whilst preventing further transmission of infections.

Patients with a positive result will be contacted by a member of the emergency department team to arrange an appointment and to discuss the next steps. Anyone who does not hear anything within 28 days of the blood test can assume their tests to be negative for HIV, hepatitis B and C, and syphilis.

This is the first time that syphilis has been included in a routine screening programme for adults in the UK.

Screening for syphilis during pregnancy is already carried out as part of routine antenatal screening in the UK, to prevent cases of congenital syphilis.

However, recent increases in the syphilis infection rate indicate that more widespread testing in adults may be needed.

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According to the latest data, there were 8,692 infectious syphilis diagnoses made in England in 2022, which was 15% more than in 2021 and was the largest number of cases of syphilis reported since 1948.

David Chadwick, clinical director for infectious diseases at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which runs The James Cook University Hospital, said: “As well as contributing towards national targets to eliminate hepatitis C and HIV, this will be the first pilot programme nationally to include syphilis screening and may help to establish whether this is worth including in other ED screening programmes around the UK.”

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